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David Gergen, former Clinton advisor and close consultant to Presidents Reagan and Bush.

Interviewed June 27, 1996


FL: Could you just give us a sense of the evolution of the Bosnia policy and what you could observe even when you weren't there and, being present at these meetings.

GERGEN:

Bill Cinton was experiencing a tremendous amount of moral agony about Bosnia when reports came in, I remember very clearly the day, that the market was bombed. It was on a Saturday morning. And going into the office to talked to him about it and he was just, he wasn't in tears, but felt very deeply about what had happened to the people there in that marketplace and felt that something had to be done. The United States, the West, had to respond.

And yet he felt boxed in. He felt boxed in because there was no willingness on the part of America: the public, Congress, the executive branch, to put American troops on the ground. And absent that, we had very, very little leverage in the situation, because we were unwilling to put our skin in the game, as Ross Perot would say. The Europeans had been forgiven the responsiblity for figuring out what to do there, and we might raise hell about it. We might take a high moral judgement about it, but absent our willingness to put troops there, we had very limited options. And the Republicans and others on the hill were saying, "Well, why don't you lift the embargo?" That, in theory, was a good idea. But the problem was if you lifted the embargo, the European troops would leave and the whole situation would collapse, and then you would be facing a real calamity. Far more people would be killed.

So Bill Clinton felt very much he had a dilemma. Absent of willingness on the part of the Americans, and he certainly didn't want to put American ground troops there to settle the problem, the problem was like a Rubik's cube. There didn't seem to be any solution to it. As it evolved, two or three things began to happen toward the end. One of them was there was, as Srebrenica fell, and Americans felt just really this simply cannot go on. The Europeans also began to feel that. And there was a willingness to use bombs on the American side, but very importantly, the Croatians broke out. And once they broke out and began taking land, it began to change the dynamics on the ground. It gave us an opportunity for Tony Lake and Dick Holbrooke to put together a plan and then execute that would combine both military force and diplomacy, which has been very fundamental to what Tony has believed all the time he's been National Security Advisor. This gave us for the first time an opportunity to break through, and the President wanted to use that.

I was not there during that endgame. But I'm aware of some of what happened. I cannot emphasize to you enough that what appeared to the outside as dithering during the early stages, or as this unfolded, came in large part because we had both hands tied behind our back. If Americans are unwilling to pay the price of foreign policy, we try to do it on the cheap, we're going to find, in many situations, that we simply cannot call the shots. The rest of the world is not going to listen to us. If we had troops on the ground, then we would have been in a position to be leaders of the alliance and to push it, and push it toward a conclusion. We would have had troops at risk, but no one was willing to pay that price.

FL: Some of the people we've spoken with felt that a large part of that foreign policy trajectory was really driven by a policy of avoidance. It was just something that could derail the presidency. When Clinton does finally act, he says "God, I thought that the American people didn't really want us to enter, but now that I have, it seems to be okay."

GERGEN:

I think it's a mistake to believe that we could have entered the war at a much, much earlier time, with a Congress, even a Democratic Congress in the first two years of his presidency, and with the American people behind that, if the purpose was to impose peace. It was quite a different proposition to put the troops in after you had a peace. That was the whole point. So that I think that both the Bush administration and the Clinton administration decided because there was no willingness, after Vietnam, especially after Somalia, in the Clinton administration, there was no willingness to inject American troops into a situation in which young men were going to be fighting in a war that seemed to be a civil war and it was likely to go on for a long, long time. It didn't seem to be in our national interest. There was no urgency about it in terms of that. It was a moral problem for the West to stand by. And it was deeply felt on the part of the Clinton administration, because people felt so ineffectual under those circumstances. But you have to start with a fundamental proposition: that American troops make the difference in the world, American military power. Unless you're willing to use that power, you're diplomacy may be ineffective.

FL: If you had been present in the beginning, wouldn't you have counselled Clinton to at least state that but not back and forth and back and forth? There was a frustration level among the people who saw the administration that seemed to be going back and forth.

GERGEN:

I agree with that. And I think the President himself would acknowledge that there was too much backhand-forehand, too much talking. And frankly if you really wanted to ask where you would counsel Bill Clinton, I think it goes all the way back to the campaign. There was an attempt during the campaign to in effect out-macho George Bush, to say "I'll be tougher than Bush," because this is such a moral outrage. That set up a line of expectations on the part of the world, that the United States was gonna step in in some way and when you came right up to the brink and looked at what your options were, the option of putting troops over there in order to make that happen, was extremely unappealing to the American people and to the Congress and as I say to everyone around Bill Clinton.

FL: Why don't we talk about your mandate. Why did you come in? What did you find? Problems that you found, crises that were emerging, to what extent were they problems of inexperience? To what extent were they related to character? Why were you called in? What did you find? What did you accomplish?

GERGEN:

I'm less than clear totally about why I was called in, and I wish I'd accomplished more. At the time that I was called by the President and by his Chief of Staff, Mac McClarty [sp], the Clinton presidency was about six months old. I think the President felt that he was foundering. I felt that it was important to the country, given a series of failed Presidents, that we not experience three and a half more years of inability to govern, that there were certain reforms I thought that Bill Clinton had set out in his campaign that I thought were important for the country's progress. And he came to me and said, "Look, I always wanted a more bi-partisan administration. Maybe you could be a bridge to some of the Republicans, since you've worked in three Republican administrations. Can you help me with that?" He said, "I feel like I'm off course, that I'm off to the left of where I was, and I'd like to find a way back to the center, and think you can help me with that." And he said, "Thirdly we're having trouble with the Washington culture, with the press, with the rest of Washington culture. We're new to this town." They felt like they were under assault from the Washington folks starting with the press. And they said, "You've had background in that field, and clearly you could help with that.

So the notion was to come in with somebody with a few grey hairs, or perhaps less hair and be a more experienced voice in terms of how they could right themselves and achieve stability. I must also say that I think that Bill Clinton had lost some of his self confidence in those first months. It seems to me, in looking over the Clinton presidency, there are two periods when I think he lost his self confidence. One was in the early months when he got banged around really hard, and secondly after the 1994 elections when he got banged very hard. And both times he had to put himself back together and pull himself together. And when he asked me to step in and be helpful, I thought as a citizen one should do that. Now, I thought the first six months while I was there were productive. That was the last half of 1993. The President, really I thought, pulled himself together. He regained his composure. He became the kind of person I'd known for a number of years before he became President. And that was someone who was more sure of himself. He was more surefooted. He became more articulate. He lost some of his Washington, the process conversations we always have in this city began to drop away. He began to talk about his beliefs again, his values. And he threw himself into some fights. He threw himself into the fight over NAFTA, the trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, and I thought that was one of his finest hours as President. I was really very proud to have been there during that time, because I was a great supporter of NAFTA.

And he was also, while I was there, he was in the midst of a budget fight. And I think in retrospect the budget agreement which he got through the Congress was one of his most significant accomplishments, and we're seeing some dividends from that with the economy today so that those first months I felt that I was part of a team that was making progress, that was moving ahead. Frankly, after the end of that six months, at the turn of the year in 1994, for a variety of reasons, I found myself in diagreement, fairly sharp disagreement over some critical issues. And I think there was a growing feeling on the part of the staff which I think naturally enough had resented my coming there. There was a sort of a growing feeling on the part of the staff - well, we know how to run this thing. Why do we need him? And I found that I was less effective, I was in some ways isolated or iced out of some things. And it was at that point that I said "Well, I didn't invite myself to this party. I came here to help. And I'm willing to stay as long as I can be helpful. I don't want to be part of your electioneering, because I don't want to take part in elections against Republicans." But at that point I began to make plans to leave. So it was a matter of time before, I helped out a little bit in the last several months on the foreign policy side. So there was a period of time where I thought I was helpful.

But did it bring permanent stability? Did it achive all that I had hoped? No. I clearly, the bridges we had hoped to build, the bi-partisan bridges, were never really fully constructed and if anything, I think Washington is more poisoned in its atmosphere today than it was three or four years ago. There's much more partisanship, and there's much less trust than there was a few years ago. The relationship with the press that the President was looking for, the relationship with the Washington community, has been up and down, just to put it charitably. But I do think he stabilized himself and put himself in the position that he had the capacity to go on and do other things for the country.

FL: In a pure nuts and bolts sense of how an office is run, how decisions were made, you said it was chaos. In the sense of who Bill Clinton is, the strengths and weaknesses. Can you talk about that?

GERGEN:

Well, I thought that, Bill Clinton is an extraordinarily bright man, and he's primarily about ideas and public policy questions. That's where he lives and breathes. He sort of, that's what gives him energy, in addition to the contact with people which energizes him. He is not an organizational person. He doesn't think managerially. This is not his strength. Other people have done that for him. He wants results, but he doesn't think in organizational boxes. I think he would probably be the last person to want to go in and help run a major corporation, for example. It's just not who he is. And Democrats by and large, I think, are more freewheeling than Republicans are. Republicans tend to have a more managerial sensibility about them. That's what they come from. That's what they like, and they tend to organize them better.

I also thought that Bill Clinton......it is an enormous leap to come from a small land locked state in America to Washington DC. Our most memorable Presidents in the twentieth century tended to have been governors of big states. Like Woodrow Wilson came out of New Jersey. Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt came out of New York, where they were governors. Ronald Reagan came out of California. It's a very different experience coming from one of those big states than to come out of Georgia. The President coming to Washington, to come out of Arkansas to Washington. Not that those aren't fine states, but they are just very different places.

You come here. You find its culture is extraordinarily different. The expectations are extraordinarily different. The scrutiny is unbelievably different. It's miles apart. I think that the Clintons made some of their most fundamental mistakes, by their own acknowledgement, in the early weeks just after they were elected. And one of those mistakes was to decide to bring essentially their campaign team, a very talented group of people but inexperienced in the ways of Washington, to be their essential entourage in Washington. And that campaign team, and as I say again, they are some of the most talented people of their generation, but they did not know the ways of this sort of strange Byzantine city. And they didn't settle in a way that made themselves friendly toward others in Washington, so they didn't have a lot of help frankly from a lot of Washingtonians. But there was almost a sense of alienation right from the beginning which I think got in the way.

So, by the time I came in six months into the administration, there were so many crises that had piled up, there were so many balls in the air, it was extraordinarily difficult for anyone to manage it under the best of circumstances. But given the fact that this was still a crew that was breaking in, that was still trying to find its morrings, it often seemed, it could be very chaotic. Someone inside said you know the best metaphor for this is to go in to watch ten year olds play soccer. Because they are very enthusiastic and they can be very talented, but there's no one who ever holds position. Wherever the ball is, you see twelve kids gathered around trying to chase after the ball.

Now, I should emphasize that every White House has its confusions. I finally remember Ronald Reagan saying about his White House that the right hand sometimes didn't know what the far right hand was doing. So, confusion is endemic to the place. But this went beyond what is ordinary. I think it would straighten out over time. I think this is a much better team now than it was in the beginning. They know the mechanics of the presidency and they're executing it a lot more effectively.

Understand, Bill Clinton is one of the most eclectic people I think one will ever encounter. My first conversation with him came back in the mid 1980's. He was reading a book about Japanese workers, and we got into a long conversation about the US and Japan. And yet this was a man who would veer off and talk to you about the 19th century British writers, or then in the next conversation might be off talking about welfare reform or what we had to do about schools in this country and that sort of thing. His mind is very nimble and he likes to move in and out of lots and lots of different topics, but it's the kind of mind, it's not a sort of disciplined here are the three points that we want to emphasize at all times. And so, organizationally you find that the people around him have many of the same traits, that he does not bring in organizers, he brings in people that he enjoys talking to in part, that he enjoys talking over ideas with. And these are not necessarily the kinds of people who run big corporations, who run big organizations. These are not managerial types that he enjoys having around him. And I think that that is reflected in the White House.

I have to tell you, this man, I think one of the things that is not understood about him around the country is just how, how good his mind is, how quick his mind is. I found it very disarming and sometimes disheartening sometimes to walk in and have a conversation with him in which there would be three or people in the Oval Office, and it would be a very animated conversation. He'd be carrying his part of the conversation on, asking questions and going down, running down the field and so forth and all the while you're talking to him he's filling out a New York Times crossword puzzle. Now, I found that very hard to deal with, as someone who has an enormous amount of difficulty with the New York Times crossword puzzle and has to have absolute silence to walk in and have this guy filling this out, and you'll be in the middle of a conversation about welfare and he'll say, "Tell me about the opera so-and-so, who was that character?"

FL: Another part of his managerial style is his temper.

GERGEN:

All of us express our anger or our frustrations in different ways. There was a time when I first came in when I thought he had lost his self confidence and he was extraordinarliy frustrated. And so periodically, I had never seen this before, and periodically there would just be these eruptions! And he would just go off. Now, he would calm down very quickly. He didn't bear any grudges. And if he thought he had gone too far, he would come back and apologize. Frankly, he was very good with me. He didn't do that to me, but I did see it with other people. Perhaps because I was just a little older than he was, I was in a little different place.

But it reminded me very much of what I heard about Lyndon Johnson. You know, Johnson had this capacity to erupt. And then he would start sending you gifts. I think Doris Kearns Goodwin got I think the same gift, I think an electric toothbrush. I think she got eighteen of them over time from Lyndon Johnson. But Bill Clinton has, can be a kind of bright orb when he just feels like sometimes should have been done the right way, was not done the right way, and he just goes off. But the redeeming quality is that it passes very quickly. It's like a thunder clap, and the sun comes out pretty quickly thereafter, and you go on. And it's sort of, it rocks you back in your seat a little bit the first time you see it, but you learn to go on with it, and I think people learn to live with it very well.

And there may be something healthy about it in the end. I mean, when you're President, it is very hard to know where you let off steam. I often thought in the White House, there ought to be a scream room where you could go off sometime in the middle of the day. And he would have enjoyed that. He was like that.

FL: In what ways is his presidency in some sense a reprise from what happened when he was governor?...

GERGEN:

I wasn't there nor did I watch closely his first two years as governor, but I do think from what I've read about it that there's a similarity. Bill Clinton has an inordinate high level of ambition for what he would like to accomplish. There is a story that David Marianiss, his biographer tells, about when he was young and hearing that great men took cat naps and slept only four or five hours a night and he immediately went home, took a cat nap and started sleeping only four or five hours a night.

He clearly has seen himself, because I think he's been told this all his life, that you're blessed with certain talents in life and you ought to give something back. And I think like a good many Presidents, you come in when you're President and you sort of think maybe , you know, you look up there at Mount Rushmore and you think about those four great men up there on Mount Rushmore, and you'd like to be in that path, you'd like to leave your mark. And I think that Bill Clinton, more than most Presidents, perhaps more than anyone other than, in recent history, Lyndon Johnson and perhaps Richard Nixon in foreign affairs, saw himself as someone who had a capacity to leave a mark and a very high mark in American affairs. So he came in with this very large set of ambitions about what he might accomplish in the presidency. And I think he overeached. He found that it was much more difficult to achieve change than others expected. But I think he and Newt Gingrich are very similiar in that sense. Both of them came in wanting to make almost revolutionary changes in very different ways. But both of them found that the system was much more resistant than they had expected, and they over-reached, and they stumbled.

The 1994 elections were the corrective, for Clinton just as his loss in Arkansas after his first term in office had been the corrective there and he had to go back and rethink who he was, what he could achieve and what he could be in this world. But I don't think there's any question that Bill Clinton in many ways reminds me of Lyndon Johnson, because he is this sort of larger than life character in some ways, a man of large appetites and a man of high ambitions. And he has enormous strengths, and he has enormous weaknesses. And all of them are just out on the public record. They're out there for public display. And he doesn't pick up, you know he doesn't show you his appendectomy, and he doesn't pick up dogs by their ears. But there is about him this larger than life quality that I think both in some ways is his most endearing quality but it can also be his greatest enemy.

FL: What about this need to make an impression, there is an emotional through-line, whether it's political, personal...

GERGEN:

If he meets you, he has an innate desire for you to remember him and to remember something about him. He wants to connect with you at some level. It may be emothional. It may be intellectual. But he wants when you walk away from that conversation "Bill Clinton. He was really this or he was really that." And that is really true of a lot of politicians. I think it's more on display with Bill Clinton. And there's no question that both for men and women, I don't want to mistate this, it can be very seductive. 'Cause he can draw you into his orbit. He can be absolutely charming. And it's not something that is fake. I mean you run into some politicians, and there's sort of this button they push, and they become charming. That's true in Washington, I think more often than we'd like to admit. I think that's just who he is. He would meet some[one] from Angola that would never vote for him and he'd want to charm that person. That's just who he is. He's that kind of human being.

FL: Now, descending into psychobabble, where do you see that coming from?

GERGEN:

I don't know. I sort of learned to take people as they are and not try [to] totally figure out their roots. People say it comes from his you know the kind of chilhood he had, but you know, different children could have come out of the same childhoood and been quite different. There has to be something in the genes.

FL: What happened during those first three years of his administration? All the initiatives that were promised?

GERGEN:

Understand for starters, when I say he has high ambitions, he wants to achive great things, he does have this progressive instinct to see the government as an instrument for making the country better. For having lives better. So, he came in with the notion originally that through a series of legislative actions and some executive orders but more importantly legislative actions, he could help to lead the country to a better standard of living, a better way of life, a better culture.

I was not there in the early months, but my very firm impression was that one of the early stumbles on the gays in the military was something that was being done with the left hand to the White House. It was taken as we did this, we promised this in the campaign. We're gonna do it Tuesday, and then Wednesday we're gonna move onto something else. I think they were totally blindsighted by the kind of reaction it raised. And there's a longer story behind that, if you want to get into that, I'd be happy to do that, any of that. I think they had a larger agenda. Early on, in the first year, I know he felt he wanted to get to health care reform quickly. They had some hope that they could do it as part of the budget agreement early on. George Mitchell talked to them about it. Others talked about it. They decided that no this is too big. We have to postpone it. Let's go ahead and clear away what Bill Clinton called "the bone in the throat." We can't do anything else unless we clear up the federal budget problem. Therefore the budget issue became sort of front and center for much of the first year, and he spent a lot of his time on that but he felt that was a bone in the throat, and until you remove the bone, you couldn't in fact enjoy the rest of the things you wanted to do.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton was pushing, "Let's get the health care thing done." And he said, "No, no, we've got to get the budget done first and then we'll get to healthcare." There was this tension in the first year about how soon are we gonna get to healthcare. Because Jay Rockefeller, the Senator from West Virginia, was saying if you don't get it done this year, it's probobly not gonna happen. You've got to get it done this year. So, Mrs Clinton really wanted to press and get health care reform up there. Meanwhile, negotiations with the Mexicans and with the Canadians over trade were gathering momentum, and an agreement was almost put together, and here comes Lloyd Bensten and Warren Christopher, I think they were absolutely right, saying we've got an agreement. We've gotta get it done this year. And it's gonna take a lot of political muscle to get it done, because there's a lot of Democratic opposition, and the country's not yet behind it. So Mrs. Clinton comes along and says, "What about my healthcare plan? We had to get this done this year."

And there was a collision in the summer of 1993, the first year, between trying to get all these things done, and one additional piece of this was that the Vice-President had been given responsibility for the Reinventing Government project. And he, it put an enormous amount of time in the first six months [on] his vice presidency, maybe 50% of his time or so into changing the structure of government. So by mid-year he was ready to go with his project.

So you had four big projects. Normally a White House has one, maybe two. But here were four. And there was a lot of tugging and pulling and trying to go back and forth about what's the sequencing? Which one has priority? If we try to do the budget and if we try to do NAFTA and if do reinvent government, is healthcare going to get squashed? That was Mrs. Clinton's concern. And the President who had made this large commitment you know he was very committed to healthcare as well. So there was a lot of banging around. There was so much on the plate.

But the fact that there were four major initiatives out there was I think emblematic of what Bill Clinton was all about. He wanted to do everything. He wanted to be in some ways Lyndon Johnson and Franklin Roosevelt rolled into one, you know to accomplish as much as he could in the first couple of years. And it was an enormous thrust forward, but it was difficult. He did accomplish some of it, but health care was pushed off and off and then the ambition levels for health care grew to be so enormous and there was a sense inside, if you were an incrementalist. That was the code word. That was the dirty word for being someone who just wanted small change. I happen to be in the camp of believing let's get a few things done first, then get a few more things done, and keep building. It's a much better way to go. But no, no, we wanted to get it all.

That illustrates that both the Clintons came in with this sense that they could transform America. This could be a presidency, America was ready. And I do think there was a sense when they first came in that America seemed to be ready for a new progressive period, a new progressive era that would combine Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson in a sense, and have both Republicans and Democrats on board. There are many of us who come out of Republican circles who believe some reforms are important, critical for the country now, so they were willing to join in and say yes we have to join in to make this a better world for our kids. I think that the Clintons had this sense that they could lead a crusade to really change America and that alot of Democrats and Republicans would be with them on that, and what they found was that there was much more resistance to change than they expected. And frankly, from my perspective, some of the programs didn't fit the mood of the country. The country did not want more big government, and that's what they saw in the health care reform. And they weren't prepared to accept it.

FL: The greatest criticism of Clinton has not been that he is overly ambitious, but rather that he doesn't stand for anything.

GERGEN:

I disagree with the notion that he doesn't stand for anything. Where I think he finds that he often gets into trouble and he's so heavily criticized is he often thinks we want to get to Rome but there are many roads that lead to Rome, and he may be on week one on this particular road and everyone wants to join him on that road, and then somehow he sees maybe the other road's a better way to get there. And he moves over and people say, "Wait. I thought he was over here." And it bothers them a great deal and naturally so.

We want in our leaders simple clear directions. Bill Clinton is not a simple clear person. And we rallied to Reagan because of the clarity of what he thought, and people thought he's firm, he's steady, he's tough and we're going somewhere with that. With Bill Clinton, it's in his character to see the world as much more complex. And he sees what he thinks on Monday, he may look at the same problem and say, "Oh there's another side to this and there's a lot of pressure over here, maybe we ought to move over here or we ought to talk about some other piece of it or some other angle on the same thing." I think people feel like he's changing his position. They don't quite know where he is.

It's not that he doesn't want the same objectives. I think he does over time. I think he has been, I think he did leave some people who believe so deeply in health care reform by not giving the health care bill a proper burial at the time it went down, and then by not continuing to push for health care reform in a big big way, it left a lot of people who believe in health care reform feeling that he'd walked away from them. And that was disheartening to some of his supporters.

FL: You described the health care reform to be the greatest public policy failure since the Vietnam War.

GERGEN:

Well, I did think the health care reform effort was a huge public policy failure in many ways the biggest since Vietnam, in large part because an entire presidency was committted to it for more than a year to achieve a major bill. And it just slipped away, so that in the end, instead of geting some major reform, at least to cover the uninsured or to get portability to people, which would be a modest beginning, that all has been beyond our grasp for the first term of the Clinton presidency.

Now maybe we'll get it, if there is a second term maybe we'll see it there. But I thought that the project as conceive, I was inside the administration at the time and found myself among those who felt that it did not respect political realities, that was possible within the political system was what we should go for and not what was not possible. It struck me as being too much government, which relied more on the free market system that we needed to put a coalition together from the center. There were a variety of things we could go through about where it seemed to me to be off-base. But it did reflect, I thought this large set of ambitions that both the President and his wife brought to the issue and that it was in their character to want dramatic changes. And I think that he has acknowledged since then on more than one occasion that he thinks he made a mistake. You know, in retrospect, they should have done it differently. They should have gone a more incremental route and sought a coalition of the center. I thought the politics of health care reform were mistaken right from the beginning. I was among those who felt come up with a proposal that enjoys the support of moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats and build out from there your coalition. And instead the notion was to come up with a proposal that would enjoy the support of the left part of the Democratic party, the base of the Democratic party, the single payer group. Get them on board with a proposal which was not single payer and then move toward the center over time. And I thought that that was wrong- headed, that it was in effect that forced you to come up with a proposal that the country wouldn't like, which you had to defend publicly for a few months before you moved. It was vulnerable to the kind of attack that opened up, and very importantly, it didn't bring the moderate Republicans on board.

Major social reform in this country, and I thought this was a lesson lost, one of the things I want to get back to...so often is that there are lessons from the last thirty or forty years of public policy that are out there to be learned. So frequently new generations come to this city come to public life, and they are not aware of those lessons. A new generation comes in that is not fully aware of what all the ramifications of Watergate, and you get this nonsense about the FBI files, you know, this outrage about the FBI files. I think from people who really didn't understand how the FBI had been abused twenty-five years ago, and they had forgotten those lessons. I think the lessons of the past for a new generation about public policy reform and social reform is that the major social reforms that passed in this country were very large bi-partisan majorities. Talk to Pat Moynihan about that. He can give you chapter and verse. And this new generation came in and said, "We can be different. We can do it differently from what anyone else has ever done it. We can go off and have our whole different politics."

FL: While there were lots of forces against the health care reform proposal, a lot of its failure was connected in a very personal way to these two people, the Clintons.

GERGEN:

I think it's been very difficult for Mrs. Clinton. They have been out on the ramparts, from their perspective, on many issues of social good, social goodness and they associate themselves with people who are trying to do good things for America. And it's very hard for someone who's been through that and been out there and often seen villains who are opposing social change of the kind they believe in. It's often very difficult for them to accommodate the perspectives of the quote villains.

And I do think that there was a tenedency that came out of the 60's, and so many people in politics today are products of the 60's, that this is right and therefore there's only one way to do this, in effect. And there's a divisiveness that comes with that. There is a , from the point of view of your opponents, what they see as moral arrogance. From your persepective, this is what's good. This is what's right. This is what's morally right. And therefore it's important to stick to your guns. And politics, if you become too moralistic about it, it's frequently difficult to reach the kind of compromises that make progress possible. And so that there, I think because of who she was, Mrs. Clinton was, there was an unwillingness on the part of some of her opponents to talk to her. People always wanted to be sort of deferential to her or respectiful of her or whatever it may be. So sometimes she would come away from conversations with the hill, assuming because people had been so positive to her, that she had their support when in fact probably that was not true. And frankly there were times when they would make arguments about how the bill oughta be changed, and then they saw no change. And they thought they weren't being listened to. And they felt, with some justification, that the White House wasn't interested in compromise. The White House wanted it all in effect.

I can't tell you how much this city has changed in the sense that different groups of people now in this city, for the first time in my life, can look at the same set of facts and come to extraordinarily different conclusions about reality, what those facts mean. And what you find is that Hillary Clinton has a band of devoted followers who think that she is, you know, almost Joan of Arc. And they tell her that. And others think this is crazy. This is totally off kilter. This is not the way the country is. This doesn't represent, these kind of reforms, as in health care cut against the grain of what America is all about and are totally unwilling to go down that path. And so you've got this kind of clash in which some people see her as self-righteous and others saying she's heroic. And it's hard for anybody to put together a picture which I think has objectivity to it about who she is and what she represents.

You know, I frankly think she has paid a price for being threatening to some men. Men of my generation feel somewhat threatened by [her], because they see her being representative of a new group of women who are I quote, "too pushy." On the other hand, she's been, she's one of the ones who's been out breaking new barriers, settting new sights for women. And I think in the long run, history will probably remember her very well for that. I myself found that there was probably no one with whom I disagreed more on policy and on some other issues, than I did with Mrs. Clinton. But I also left there with a very high regard for who she was. She came by her views honestly, and she's a fighter. And she believes in the struggle, and even though I disagree with her, I admire that she's true to that.

FL: You had a very serious disagreement with her about Whitewater that had profound repercussions.

GERGEN:

We had, our sharpest disagreements we had were over health care and over Whitewater. Again, they were respectful disagreements. I just came out to a different place than where she was. I mean, but there's no question that I felt early on, having lived through and being a part of the Watergate era, I felt it was very obvious what one had to do early on about Whitewater. I didn't think it took a rocket scientist to figure this out. And that is you had to disgorge everything, put it all out on the table, take your lumps, what ever they were and get it behind you. Because once you start withholding things in this new environment, people are automatically suspicious. They start dragging it out of you. Everything comes out. It comes out in the worst possible way. And it goes on and on and on and can and indeed in this case it did lead to a special prosecutor. I thought whatever there was there, and I couldn't imagine there being anything that, there being that much treachery or criminality or whatever it may be, and still don't see any evidence that there's anything hard there.

I think, had everything we know today been put out on the line from day one, the country would have been better off. I thought they would have been better off. And I thought they could have moved on with their agenda more easily. Yeah, it would have been a storm for awhile, but the storm would have passed. She didn't see it that way, I think in part because a lot of the lawyers around her told her that was not at all the way it was gonna work out and that their documents that they had were so incomplete, that would only open more questions and it would only feed the fires, and the fires would be consuming overtime, and you're better off just fighting it out. We had very sharp disagreements at that time, and I lost. But those things happen. Sometimes, if you're a member of the staff...I wasn't elected. They were elected. Well, Bill Clinton was elected. And they ultimately have to make those kinds of decisions.

FL: Another criticism of the administration has to do with strategy and the idea of living in the campaign mode as opposed to governing.

GERGEN:

It's interesting. My sense that Bill Clinton has, because of Arkansas where he had to run every two years, he's almost on a two-year rhythm in his political life. When you have to run every two years, as you find in the House of Representatives, you're constantly thinking about the next election, because it's just right over the horizon. And there was tendency among a lot of people around the President including the President himself, to be thinking politically 'cause we've got an election campaign that's coming up. We're almost into a permanent campaign in this country in the presidency as it is, that one has to constantly filter things through a political lens.

I think he now realizes he would have been so much better off had he, before he became President, sat down and said, "What are the three big things I want to accomplish in my first term? What do I want to be remembered for by history in my first term? Not by the voters, but by history." And there's a difference. And one never had a sense that that's what the administration was about. And frankly I think that's one of the critical things for him, if he were elected, I think it's critical that people know before he's elected what his second term is all about, what are the three things he stands for or wants to accomplish. If it's clear in the campaign, then he'll have a mandate he can govern more easily.

The second term can be a rough second term. Second terms tend to be weaker than first terms. History has born that out just abundently. But I felt that because there was a lack of sort of a vision of what exactly one wants to accomplish, there wasn't a strategy that would attach to it, then from strategy begin to devise tactics. But you have to have a plan. You have to know sort of here's where we want to go. And from the plan you can then, you can devise your polls, you can devise your communications plan, you can devise your legislative strategy and tactics. All of those things flow from that. But if you start back in sort of "We're not quite sure where we want to go, what is it we think we can get passed?" You're in a very different position, because then you start taking polls to see where the public is.

What we know from the presidency is you can change the poll through leadership. I mean Jimmy Carter, regarded as ineffectual by so many people, changed Amercan minds about the Panama Canal. He had huge opposition to the Panama Canal when he started, and he changed people's minds about it. And the guy wasn't very popular. Bill Clinton changed people's minds about NAFTA. NAFTA started out two to one negative. By the time it was over it was like two to one positive in terms of the way people thought about it. So you don't start with the poll. You start saying, "What is it we want to do for the country? Why are we here? When we leave here, what do we want to leave behind?" And then you work from there. And what I felt, and Bill Clinton's presidency is not the first one to suffer from this. His predecessor had the same question. You know, George Bush had the same question.

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